Lady and The Track | November 26, 2022

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Horse Racing’s Problematic Preakness Stakes

Horse Racing’s Problematic Preakness Stakes: The running of the 1968 edition of the Preakness Stakes left the racing world in a conundrum.

Forward Pass, the product of stallion On-and-On and Kentucky Oaks winner Princess Turia, was a Derby hopeful and entered the classic as the favorite after his wins in the Everglades Stakes, Florida Derby, and Blue Grass Stakes. The Calumet colt finished second to Dancer’s Image, but that winner would have his roses revoked.

Preakness Horse Racing

Peter Fuller and wife Joan stood next to his Kentucky Derby-winning horse, Dancer’s Image, in 1968.
Photo: Frank O’Brien/Globe Staff/File 1968

Prior to the legalization of race-day medication, phenylbutazone, a common pain-killer used to relieve joint inflammation, was limited to use outside of the races themselves. Because Dancer’s Image regularly suffered from sore ankles, a veterinary was recruited to give the colt a phenylbutazone tablet a week before the race.

The drug was expected to dissipate from the horse’s system before the running of the Kentucky Derby, but upon the post-race urinalysis of the winner, unacceptable traces of the drug were found in Dancer’s Image. In the only instance of the 141 years of the Kentucky Derby, Dancer’s Image was disqualified to last place, and Forward Pass was crowned the victor.

Forward Pass and Dancer’s Image entered the Preakness Stakes for a rematch, each aiming to prove their true superiority over the other. Forward Pass trounced his competitors, winning the 1-3/16-mile Pimlico classic by six lengths. Dancer’s Image finished in third but was once again disqualified, this time for bumping another horse. Ankle pain continued to plague the colt, and the son of Native Dancer was retired after the Preakness.

Forward Pass had technically won the Kentucky Derby and had actually taken the Preakness Stakes. The chance that he would win the Belmont Stakes and thus the Triple Crown evoked controversy among racing fans. A Triple Crown win founded on a disqualification in one of the races would not be considered a pure victory; rather, it would be seen as a fraudulent score in racing’s most prized achievement.

In spite of the naysayers and ballyhoo, Forward Pass entered the Belmont Stakes. Fortunately for those who intended to forever disapprove of the 1968 Triple Crown season, an illegitimate tour de force was avoided. Forward Pass ran his race but faltered to finish second by 1-1/4 lengths to Stage Door Johnny, a colt who had avoided the publicity of the Derby and Preakness in favor of training specifically for the distance of the Belmont.

Those top two Belmont finishers were each voted Champion Three-Year-Old Male by different organizations while Dancer’s Image and owner Peter Fuller fought the disqualification of the Kentucky Derby. A sort of belated justice was finally served when in 2008 Dancer’s Image was re-awarded his trophy and winnings upon further consideration of the drug controversy. However, speculation still abounds in the case of the colt’s disqualification, and the New York Times called the event “the most controversial Kentucky Derby ever.”

Forward Pass’ follow-up victory in the Preakness simply reaffirms the fact that anything can happen in the unpredictable sport of horse racing.

Preakness Stakes 2015 Post Positions & Odds
Race 13 6:18 pm ET
1 American Pharoah 4-5 Espinoza/Baffert
2 Dortmund 7-2 Garcia/Baffert
3 Mr. Z 20-1 Nakatani/Lukas
4 Danzig Moon 15-1 Leparoux/Casse
5 Tale of Verve 30-1 Rosario/Stewart
6 Bodhisatttva 20-1 McCarthy/Corrales
7 Divining Rod 12-1 Castellano/Delacour
8 Firing Line 4-1 Stevens/Callaghan

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Preakness Travel Tips: Top Five Baltimore Dive Bars
Tale of Verve Needs Pace in Preakness Stakes
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Firing Line Takes Aim in Preakness Stakes 2015
Top Trainers of the Preakness Stakes